The Psychology of Learning in Make It Stick, a Book by Peter C. Brown

Categories: Learning

All throughout my years of high school, my study habits have evolved tremendously. Certain times, I would cram an overload of all my studies in on the night before an important test. At other times, I would intricately work through the material within the week prior to the testing day. I suppose that I never took the time to truly analyze what methods worked best for me and which techniques better assisted me in retaining the information. I always did what was most convenient and satisfying to me.

It wasn’t until just recently, when I began to read Make it Stick, a book concerning the psychology of learning that I truly began to consider being more open-minded about the vast amount of ways to study more efficiently.

If you are interested in learning a variety of innovative ways to enhance your learning abilities, Make it Stick is an essential tool to help you achieve that goal. Make it Stick, written by collaborated authors Peter C.

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Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel, explains how traditional learning has been manifested in modern studies of cognitive psychology to be time consuming and less effective. The authors elaborate on multiple techniques of establishing richer, more refined, learning. They state, “For the most part, we are going about learning in the wrong ways, and we are giving poor advice to those who are coming up behind us. A great deal of what we think we know about how to learn is taken on faith and based on intuition but does not hold up under empirical research” (Brown, Roediger, McDaniel 21).

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This essay is an evaluation of multiple sections in chapter three of Make it Stick titled Mix Up Your Practice. This chapter focuses on how interleaved and spaced practices of study creates much stronger and fuller retrieval of memory, as opposed to massed study. Massed study fails to provide learners with stable long-term memory of information. The techniques in this chapter help learners establish deeper memorization that can be more applicable in other circumstances in their lives. We are all aware that developing good study habits is crucial when learning, and that studying can be quite difficult. This book is overflowing with study mechanisms that can well assist readers in their learning experiences. It provides great advice and ideas, supported by noteworthy experiments.

Chapter three lists various examples of skillful ways to study. One example that specifically stood out to me, was the the idea of arranging spaced out applications of study. Section one, titled The Myth of Massed Practice introduces the ideas of spaced practice, quoting, “Spacing out our practice feels less productive for the very reason that some forgetting has set in and you’ve got to work harder to recall the concepts… what you do not sense in that moment is that this added effort is making the learning stronger” (Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel 48). I value the concept of spaced study, because it requires an increase in effort to retrieve forgotten information, ultimately enhancing the memory. All of the methods of study in this chapter are supported with a foundation of reported experiments performed by the authors, and other sources with experiences that cater to the subject.

I believe the authors do a wonderful job at mapping out each experiment and significant experience with much detail, giving the reader a clear idea of how it affected the participants, and demonstrating how it can benefit them as a reader, as well. For example, chapter four tells the story of a U.S Marine who took on a huge responsibility that involved jumping out of planes to drop cargo. Meanwhile, her biggest fear was falling. This story perfectly coincides with the subject of the chapter, titled ‘Embrace Difficulties’ (Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel 67-72).

Using different analogies and testimonials as an explanation of each proposed point, provides the reader with a structured dependability that the material is truthful and valuable. Another noteworthy point I would like to make about Make it Stick is the comprehensible style and language that the authors use in chapter three and throughout the entire book. This book is written in a casually relatable format, that can ultimately help to build the reader’s confidence in applying the methods in their own lives. Each of the theories presented in this book had a specific way of drawing my attention.

Although I considered some to be slightly inconvenient and time consuming, including: varied study and interleaved study, a method that requires learning in a randomized pattern, rather than orderly memorization. All are illustrated through experiences and facts, which makes the material more believable. In Chapter three, the authors present the reader with an experiment, of two separate groups of students who were taught to find the volumes of four geometric solids followed by the results, “….the students who had practiced solving problems clustered by type averaged only 20 percent correct, while the students whose practice was interleaved averaged 63 percent. The mixing of problem types, which boosted final test performance by a remarkable 215 percent, actually impeded performance during initial learning” (Brown, Roediger, McDaniel 50).

This proved interleaved study to be more effective than clustered practices. This book has become so important to me, that I find it difficult to state it’s flaws. Although, after thorough thought, I noticed one specific issue that I have with Make it Stick. Though there are clear compare and contrast evaluations throughout the book, the authors tend to have a moderately biased standpoint. They often refer to traditional study as being the least effective and worst ways to study. “Rereading and massed practice give rise to feelings of fluence that are taken to be signs of mastery, but for true mastery or durability these strategies are largely a waste of time” (Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel 3). Everyone uses different methods that most suit them, and although the methods stated in this book are well thought through, and proven to be powerful ways to study, not all traditional study is as ineffective as the authors tend to portray them to be.

Some readers may be more simple-minded and attached to their original ways. Therefore, writing from a biased standpoint may cause the reader to feel less inclined to willingly listen to the information being presented. Overall, Make it Stick is an excellent book with factual research concerning ways to encourage learning in new and more inventive ways. It prompts the reader to do away with popular strategies that tend to feel robust but have less background proof of actual long-term success. I have begun following various techniques from chapter three, which particularly stood out to me, such as, spatial and interleaved practices. Despite the difficulties, I am seeing wonderful results in my retrieval of memory. Therefore, I highly recommend it to anyone with a passion to learn vigorously.

Work Cited

  1. Brown, Roediger III, McDaniel. Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014. Print

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The Psychology of Learning in Make It Stick, a Book by Peter C. Brown. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved from

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